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Atlantic Division notebook

Canadiens adapting to coach Claude Julien; Maple Leafs hope to see Montreal in playoffs

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

It has been two weeks since the Montreal Canadiens hired former Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien, and it still seems strange to see him wearing the bleu, blanc et rouge instead of black and gold. It has been a swift transition for him, for the team, after he was fired by the Bruins on Feb. 7, before being hired by the Canadiens on Feb. 14.

There has been no time for a getting-to-know-you period, no time to ease into the new era of Canadiens hockey. Given their rocky play recently, the Canadiens needed to win and win now, which they had done only once in Julien's first three games with the club before an overtime win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

"The players have been good as far as reacting to the changes," Julien said. "I think at the end of the day our team needs to play better, but my transition has been quick. I haven't denied that - from one situation to another.

"So I had to adjust quickly, but it's coming around fairly well. I've had great help from my coaches here that have given me some valuable information and valuable help, so things are coming around and players are receptive. They seem excited about some tweaks we've made, but now we've got to bring it into a game."

That went better on Saturday, when the Canadiens got excellence from goaltender Carey Price and an overtime goal from Andrew Shaw to give Julien his second win. It was not without its flaws but it was, as it needed to be, a step forward - for the Canadiens and their coach.

"We've been playing a little bit different," Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty said. "We haven't been playing perfect. There's some areas we want to clean up and some areas we feel like we're doing better, but we've got to get that confidence back and play with a little bit of swagger, have guys make sure that - kind of turn off your brain, just go out there and react. That's when we're at our best."

Video: MTL@TOR: Galchenyuk kicks puck to stick and scores

Their attitude has also helped. It would have been easy to be upset and negative amid the struggles, with other Atlantic Division foes catching up, but that has not been the case, according to the Canadiens.

The outlook is still good. Part of that is Julien. Part of that is the message that he brought to the team when he came to Montreal.

"His messages was [to] be positive, keep working hard, giving us new things about some system changes," forward Alex Galchenyuk said. "Every day we try to add something new and get better as a team."

They are now under the purview of a coach who has been to the top, winning the Stanley Cup with the Bruins in 2011. He has the results. They believe he can bring the results to Montreal, which hasn't won the Cup since 1993.

Though, at the moment, they're spending more time thinking about the present than about the future, or about the past. They need to lock up a spot in the playoffs before they can think about how far they'll get.

"We're very capable of being better and the guys know that, they feel it," Julien said. "We need to focus on the present, not the past, and what we are going to do. We hope that we can play to the expectations of this hockey club."

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It was hard not to dream. Watching the Maple Leafs play against the Canadiens at Air Canada Centre on Saturday, those involved - especially on the Toronto side - could only hope that there might just be more games between them this season.

Those wouldn't come in the regular season; the Canadiens and Maple Leafs have played all four of their scheduled games in 2016-2017, with Montreal winning all of them. But maybe, just maybe, they could resume their rivalry in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I could imagine," said Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri, who grew up a Canadiens fan. "We've played them a ton, a lot of times it seemed like a playoff game, so I definitely could imagine what it would be like. It would be unbelievable. It would be historic. Classic.

"It's a bit too early to start picturing that, but at the end of the day, that could be a reality."

It has been a long time. The Canadiens and Maple Leafs haven't played against each other in the playoffs since 1978-1979, a span of 38 years, or longer than any of the current Maple Leafs have been alive.

But even if it doesn't happen - as things stand right now, they wouldn't see each other until the Eastern Conference Second Round - it's clear that the surge for the Maple Leafs has made the rivalry a lot more interesting, even if Montreal has won the past 14 games.

"It means a lot," Kadri said. "Especially to the League, to the players, to the teams. A lot of tradition behind these two franchises, so for them to be in a playoff hunt and contention this time of year is good for everybody."

Video: WPG@TOR: Gardiner shows patience, snaps in OT winner

 

Stat Pack

Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres has 21 points in his past 20 games, with seven multipoint games, most recently on Sunday when he had a goal and an assist against the Arizona Coyotes. But that marked a first for the Sabres this season: Until that loss, the Sabres had won each game in which Eichel had more than one point, going 10-0-0. In his career, the Sabres are 19-4-0 in such situations. … The Bruins are 22 for their past 72 on the power play (30.6 percent), bringing them to 13th in the NHL (20.2) percent. They're still well behind the Maple Leafs, who have tied the Minnesota Wild for the best power play in the NHL at 22.8 percent. Buffalo, at 22.4 percent, is not far behind.

 

Games to watch

Toronto Maple Leafs at San Jose Sharks (Feb. 28, 10:30 p.m. ET; CSN-CA, SNO, NHL.TV) -- Consider it the old vs. the young. The Sharks are led by players deep into their 30s. The Maple Leafs are led by players under the age of 21. It's a team playing for perhaps one last chance against a team that might be a year or two away.

Nashville Predators at Montreal Canadiens (March 2, 7:30 p.m. ET; SN, RDS, TSN-TN, NHL.TV) -- The Predators in Montreal means P.K. Subban in Montreal. With Subban missing the first game in Nashville, this marks the first time the defenseman will play against his old team. Expect emotion.

Boston Bruins at Ottawa Senators (March 6, 7:30 p.m. ET; TSN5, RDS, NESN, NHL.TV) -- As the Atlantic Division race continues to remain close top-to-bottom, any games between the group vying for spots in the playoffs become crucial. This is one.

New York Rangers at Florida Panthers (March 7, 7:30 p.m. ET; FS-F, MSG, NHL.TV) -- The Panthers are surging, hoping to move up into contention for the postseason. The Rangers are looking to maintain their spot or move up in the standings.

Buffalo Sabres at Columbus Blue Jackets (March 10, 7 p.m. ET; FS-O, MSG-B, NHL.TV) -- In a quirk of the schedule, the Sabres and Blue Jackets play a back-to-back home-and-home series in which the Sabres might be able to do some damage to a playoff contender.

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